CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Harvard Law School should remove its official shield because of its ties to an 18th-century slaveholder, a committee said Friday, taking a position supported by the dean.
“We believe that if the Law School is to have an official symbol, it must more closely represent the values of the Law School, which the current shield does not,” the committee made up of professors, alumni, students and staff wrote in its recommendation to the Harvard Corp., one of the university’s governing boards, which will make a final decision.
It was not immediately clear when the corporation would take up the issue.
The shield’s meaning has changed over time, said Bruce Mann, committee chairman and Harvard Law professor.
“Too many people think the shield has become an impediment,” he said. “Too many people see the association with slavery.”
The committee’s 10-2 recommendation was backed by Dean Martha Minow.
“I endorse the recommendation to retire the shield because its association with slavery does not represent the values and aspirations of the Harvard Law School and because it has become a source of division rather than commonality in our community,” she wrote to students and alumni.
The shield, officially adopted in 1937, depicts three bundles of wheat, an image borrowed from the family crest of Isaac Royall Jr., under the university’s motto “Veritas.”
Royall donated his estate to create the first law professorship at Harvard University. His father, Isaac Royall Sr., made much of the family wealth on the backs of slaves on Caribbean sugar plantations and Massachusetts farms.
Minow created the committee after some law school students formed a group called Royall Must Fall to denounce the shield.
“We definitely consider this a victory that represents our tireless advocacy,” said A.J. Clayborne, a third-year Harvard Law student and member of Royall Must Fall, adding that the group is also dedicated to fighting other racial injustices at the school.
Not everyone agreed with the recommendation. One professor on the committee, joined by a student, said keeping the current shield was a way to honor the slaves whose sacrifice provided the Royall family with its wealth.
They said the current shield should be tied “to a historically sound interpretative narrative about it” and suggested adding the word “Iustitia” justice in Latin below the word “Veritas.”
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